Oct 17, 2017 – A flurry of bad press following a 60 Minutes segment that aired Sunday on DEA prescription drug distribution enforcement problems has led to the withdrawal of Trump’s nominee to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). Representative Tom Marino (R – PA) announced his decision early today. The position, often referred to as the Drug Czar, oversees the administrations drug policy throughout the 16 different federal agencies that are involved in drug control and enforcement. It has remained unfilled since Michael Botticelli left the position in January. The current acting director is Richard Baum.
The 60 Minutes segment focused on the DEA enforcement rules over prescription drugs and the pharmaceutical industry’s influence over those same laws. The damning piece featured an ex-DEA agent Joe Rannazzisi whose accusations placed the destroyed lives of millions of opioid addicted Americans squarely in the lap of the three drug distributors. From CBS News:
Joe Rannazzisi: This is an industry that allowed millions and millions of drugs to go into bad pharmacies and doctors’ offices, that distributed them out to people who had no legitimate need for those drugs.
Bill Whitaker (60 minutes): Who are these distributors?
Rannazzisi: The three largest distributors are Cardinal Health, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen. They control probably 85 or 90 percent of the drugs going downstream.
Whitaker: You know the implication of what you’re saying, that these big companies knew that they were pumping drugs into American communities that were killing people.
Rannazzisi: That’s not an implication, that’s a fact. That’s exactly what they did.
What makes Marino the center of controversy is that he sponsored a bill that was pushed hard by the pharmaceutical industry to remove them single most effective tool the DEA had to prevent pill distributors from illegal behavior. The bill was promoted by Rep. Marino and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R – TN) as a way to ensure access to medication for patients, with no mention of the change of enforcement rules.
Jonathan Novak of the DEA’s legal office told CBS News, “what the bill really did was strip the agency of its ability to immediately freeze suspicious shipments of prescription narcotics to keep drugs off U.S. streets — what the DEA calls diversion.”
In fact, Marino has a long history of defending the pharmaceutical companies’ interests in Congress. Weed News covered the likely nomination in September when CBS News first reported on it. Another powerhouse news outlet, Mother Jones, recently explained in an article October 13th:
“During his time in Congress, Marino has developed a cozy relationship with the drug distributors that his office would help oversee—and which stand to lose from a federal crackdown on painkiller distribution. Pharmaceutical distributors, which disseminate drugs to pharmacies across the country, were among the top contributors to Marino’s House campaigns. They lobbied extensively to support legislation, signed into law last year, that Marino co-sponsored making it more difficult for the Drug Enforcement Agency to shut down pharmacies it suspects are diverting pills. Today, Marino’s former chief of staff is a vice president at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores …
“Marino, an early Trump supporter, has repeatedly voted against drug reform legislation since he assumed office in 2011. Last year, he suggested sending drug users to a “hospital-slash-prison.” His office declined request for comment from Mother Jones.”
Trump tweeted early Tuesday:
Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar. Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2017
Senator Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia expressed his opposition in a letter to Trump. His state has been hit the hardest by the opioid addiction problem plaguing America.
“The legislation that Congressman Marino pushed has tied the hands of the DEA in their efforts to enforce our nation’s laws and ensure that these wholesalers and other industry actors alert authorities to these suspicious orders instead of simply profiting from them,” Manchin explained in his letter.
“His advocacy for this legislation demonstrates that Congressman Marino either does not fully understand the scope and devastation of this epidemic or ties to industry overrode those concerns. Either option leaves him unfit to serve as the head of the ONDCP.”